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March 30, 2010

Holidays in Hell

P. J. O'Rourke

If you've never read anything by this man you have missed a lot of humor, candor, and laugh-out-loud anecdotes accompanied by interpretations of them. For years he was a foreign correspondent, covering wars and disasters. In this tome he describes, chapter by chapter, some of the worst places on earth: Lebanon, Seoul, Panama, Warsaw, Russia (and Chernobyl), the Philippines, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, the Holy Land ("God's Monkey House"), and offers commentary on "Darkest American" sites: Epcot Center, Heritage America, a stint at the America's Cup yacht race, and Harvard's 350th Anniversary. It's a real hoot! Mayhem, riots and violence are graphically, yet wryly reported. The discussion of El Salvador (Christmas, 1985) is alone worth the price of the book. And Harvard's 350th is a howler. It's zany, but full of facts . . . many of them gut-wrenching.

He begins by emphasizing that "Civilization is an enormous improvement on the lack thereof;" then describes wildly corrupt and dangerous places to prove his point. "Western Civilization provides a bit of life, a pinch of liberty, and the occasional pursuance of happiness; it's also the only [society] that's ever tried to. . . . We are fools when we fail to defend [it]. . . . War will exist as long as there's a food chain. No amount of mushy essaying . . . and no number of noisy, ill-kempt women sitting in at Greenham Common will change this. . . . Better we study to conduct war as decently as possible and as little as necessary. . . . We think war is a John Wane movie. We think life is a John Wayne movie--with good guys and bad guys; as simple as that." After months of dealing with "Euro-Weenies:" Well, it is not, "Mister Limey Poofter," you say WE BE BAD. We don't all agree on that !! (Though far to many of us do!)

As for Central and South America . . . no one, least of all us, is wrecking them. They "came pre-wrecked." Why is Mexico so poor? C'mon, wake up! It isn't just squalid homes, but squalid industry, squalid infrastructure and squalid corporate poverty, intellectual and otherwise. "The whole country looks like it's run by slum lords. Especially the bathrooms."

At dawn in Jerusalem, "you could be in any century," but by mid-day you know exactly. You're in the twelfth, where "everybody is bashing everybody over the head about God." The universal hatred seems incredibly out of keeping in the Holy Land. It had never occurred to him that God, or hatred, could permeate (mostly Palestinian) people this way.

And after a night on the town (in Poland), including some nudity: "To grasp the true meaning of socialism, imagine a world where everything is designed by the post office, even the sleaze." The root of socialist problems is boredom, according to P.J. Our sixties generation (of which he's a member) rebelled against boring commercialism and boring materialism. The socialists rebel from the lack thereof. While the Evil Empire starves and executes people by the thousands, "mostly it bores them to death." (On the serious side, consider the incidence of alcoholism, etc.)

Suffice it to say that, while quite informative, and more than occasionally quite serious--sometimes gravely so--it is also a rollicking run thru chaotic parts of the world; good history, and immensely entertaining.

Posted by Curmudgeon at March 30, 2010 2:39 PM